February 25, 2008

Fusion and expected power generation trends

Vincent Page, technology officer at GE, wrote a good paper in 2005 about the economics and timeline towards moving to fusion power

He had three fusion concepts in a chart which I will extend


Time to Small Cost to Achieve Large scale chance
Concept Description Scale net energy Net Energy after small success Funded?

Bussard IEC Fusion 3-5 years $200 million 90% Y, $2m
My intro to Bussard fusion and update on prototype work

Tri-alpha Energy aka 8 years $75 million 60% Y, $50m
Colliding Beam fusion aka
Field Reversed Configuration
My review of the academic research before the funded stealth project

General Fusion aka 3-6 years $10-30 million 60% Y, $2m
Magnetized target fusion
Steam generated shock wave into spinning liquid metal

Plasma Focus 6 years $18 million 80% Y, $1.7m
Focus fusion website
Focus fusion US patent application
Working on a funded experiment with Chile 2006-2010

Multi-pole Ion beam
version of Bussard IEC 3-5 years $200 million 90% N
FP generation MIX IEC fusion

Koloc Spherical Plasma 10 years $25 million 80% N (self)
Attempt to create stable ball lightning plasma balls
In 2004, trying to generate 30-40cm plasma spheres




IEC bussard fusion can be estimated to cost $200 million for the first 100MW system.
IEC bussard fusion should scales well to 1-10GW sizes.
General Fusion has discussed $50 million devices for generating 100MW.
Focus fusion has talked about 20MW reactors for $500,000 and 1/20th of cent per kwh.

I expect that over the next couple of months there will be more positive test results from the WB-7 IEC prototype reactor. I think that the IEC bussard fusion multi-pole variant (from a researcher who previously worked with Bussard on his reactor) will then also get funded. I think some of the projects with minimal funding will get more support as other countries and companies step into the alternative nuclear fusion power generation race.

The tweaks to the IEC fusion system are to increase ion and electron densities (from the multi-pole (MIX) site:

With higher densities, electrons and ions can arrange themselves in alternating layers of positive and negative charge, forming "virtual electrodes" that can result in yet higher densities of ions at the center of the machine, and a trapped ion population that never intersects any material structure. Evidence for this effect has previously been observed in operating IEC machine.

The addition of a small radio frequency modulation of the cathode voltage will drive trapped ions to converge simultaneously at megahertz rates in the very center of the machine at high energies, provided a harmonic electric potential can be maintained inside the cathode, an effect called POPS (Periodically Oscillating Plasma Sphere) that has been documented in previous IEC experiments.

Pulsed operation will potentially raise the fusion rate still further.

We have plans to extract ions which have developed non-ideal orbits at low energy, thus substantially increasing the energy confinement time and further raising efficiency.


Older power generation systems and projects will not be abandoned. It would still take a long time to replace the old power even if nuclear fusion has a breakthrough. Plus the new fusion power systems will need to gather several years of operating record so that people know exactly what their cost and safety record is. Fission systems such as the Hyperion Uranium Hydride system (nuclear battery) would still have a niche helping generate power for enhance oil shale and oil sand recovery during a transition phase which could last two or three decades.

Increased funding could accelerate these projects by 1-3 years. For the IEC fusion systems net energy production systems are basically full scale commercial systems.

FURTHER READING
DOE central power analysis



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